Dutch paintings to visit de young

By From page B8 | February 08, 2013

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to announce that the de Young Museum will be the first North American venue to present “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” a selection of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague on Jan. 26.

The de Young will host 35 paintings from the collection, including the renowned “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer, “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius, and four works by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Highlighting the spectacular artistic achievements of the Dutch Golden Age, these works reflect the culture of artistic, economic and technological innovation that allowed the Netherlands to prosper in the 17th century.

At the center of this exhibition is one of the world’s most famous paintings, Vermeer’s masterpiece, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

This work, sometimes called “the Dutch Mona Lisa,” is one of only 36 known paintings by the artist and rarely travels outside the Netherlands. Though little is known about Vermeer’s life, the quiet grace and virtuoso technique evident in his paintings, and in particular his rendering of light, have placed him among the most important artists of the 17th century.

Many of the details of his technique can only be appreciated through close examination of the painting surface, such as the few tiny brushstrokes that indicate the reflection on the pearl, and the broader, more expressive painting of her ultramarine and yellow turban.

During the Dutch Golden Age, a significant shift occurred in both the technique of painting and in subject matter, particularly as secular subjects began to replace religious themes.

Portraiture focused increasingly on ordinary people, like the man depicted in Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Portrait of an Elderly Man.” The sitter seems not to be posed, but presented in a matter-of-fact way that differs from the idealized formality of traditional portraiture.

“The hierarchical social structure in other European countries no longer monopolized art production in the Netherlands,” said Dr. Lynn Orr, curator in charge of European art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “As the middle class prospered, an unprecedented market for portraiture developed. Successful individuals, married couples, and civic leaders wanted likenesses to pass on to posterity.”

Like the more relaxed approach to portraiture, the paintings known as genre scenes also mirrored life as it was actually lived in the Netherlands.

These often depicted some aspect of everyday life, like informal musical performances or simple domestic activities. Jan Steen’s painting “The Oyster Eater” is an example of telling a story using a domestic setting. Lavish detail is used to depict the space, furnishings and costume. However, as is often the case with Dutch paintings, something more is going on: the young woman looks out to the viewer with a coy glance that is open to interpretation. Is her meal simply interrupted or does she also invite us to join her in eating oysters — the food of seduction?

The Dutch were proud of the commercial success and technological achievements that supported the Netherlands’ thriving economy during the 17th century, including the massive engineering projects that allowed the country to reclaim large areas of land from the sea.

Landscapes like “View of a Lake with Sailing Ships” by Salomon van Ruysdael can be read as descriptions of the Dutch countryside, but they also often reference technological innovations. Here Ruysdael includes ships designed specifically to navigate the shallow waterways of the Netherlands, as well as the windmill and portage equipment in the distance.

Taken as a whole, this exhibition reflects the political, economic, technological and cultural accomplishments of an extraordinary society.

“The Fine Arts Museums are thrilled to have this rare opportunity to share these works from the Mauritshuis,” said Orr. “The brilliant flowering of the Dutch school exemplified in these paintings was a unique achievement and the works continue to intrigue and delight to this day.”

About the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis

This prestigious Dutch museum, which has not lent a large body of works from its holdings in nearly 30 years, is undergoing an extensive two-year renovation and expansion that makes this opportunity possible.

Following two stops at Japanese institutions, the exhibition debuts in the United States at the de Young Museum, then travels to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in the summer of 2013.

A smaller selection will be on view at The Frick Collection in New York in October 2013. Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis, commented, “We are delighted to have three excellent museums as partners for our U.S. tour. This agreement allows us to present our collection on both the west and east coasts of the United States, in large as well as more intimate venues.”

Housed in a magnificent 17th-century city palace, the museum is celebrated for its masterpieces from the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age, including paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen, Hals and Rubens.

The works on permanent display provide a magnificent panorama of Dutch and Flemish art of the 15th to 17th centuries; from Flemish primitives to sunlit landscapes, from biblical characters to meticulous still lifes, and from calm interiors to humorous genre scenes.

The core holdings of the Mauritshuis were acquired by Stadholder William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1748–1806), whose son, King William I (1772–1843), presented them to the Dutch nation in 1816. Consisting of nearly 300 works in 1822, the holdings of the Mauritshuis have grown to approximately 800 paintings.


Exhibition catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Mauritshuis, The Hague.

The volume guides readers through the highlights of the museum’s magnificent collection and features 35 masterpieces of portraiture, landscape, genre painting, history painting, and still life, each accompanied by text illuminating its context and significance.

Curatorial essays provide an overview of the extraordinary world of the 17th-century Dutch Republic, explore the history and future of the Mauritshuis building and collection, offer an in-depth look at “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” and chronicle fascinating conservation treatments and technical research undertaken by the museum on behalf of its treasures. It is hardcover with 144 pages and a cost of $34.95/$31.46 members.

It is available in the museum stores or online at


Exhibition organization

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with gratitude for exceptional loans from the collection of the Mauritshuis, The Hague. Major Patrons are Penny and James George Coulter, Cynthia Fry Gunn and John A. Gunn, J. Burgess and Elizabeth B. Jamieson; Benefactors are The Selz Foundation Inc. and The Richard C. von Hess Foundation; Sponsors are Phoebe Cowles and Robert Girard and Supporters of the exhibition are Greta R. Pofcher and The Netherland-America FoundationMedia.

The exhibition will run from Jan.26 to June 2 at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

Museum hours are  Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and closed Mondays. Admission cost is $25 adults; $22 seniors; $21 college students with ID; $15 youths 6 to 17. (These prices include general admission.) Members and children 5 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month.

Tickets can be purchased on the de Young’s Website All online tickets include a $1 handling charge.

De Young

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